Photo © Carrie Bickner

Zeldman runs the web design studio Happy Cog and publishes A List Apart, an online magazine for web designers.

How would you describe the connection between content and design?

Content informs design; design without content is decoration. Content has the same relationship to design that product has to advertising. Good ads are based on the product; good designs come from and facilitate the content. This is one reason we bring content strategy to every design assignment, and one reason we insist on working with real content, not lorem ipsum (placeholder) content. Nothing is sadder than a beautiful design that works great with lorem ipsum but doesn’t actually support the real content.

How do you take into account a brand’s image or identity when designing (or redesigning) a corporate website?

Brand is how people feel about your product; the design of the site and its usability are essential components of that feeling and thus essential components of brand. The Web is more and more the way in which people interact most with your brand; thus the design of the site cannot be an afterthought. A wonderfully designed, highly usable and accessible site with compelling and appropriate content is a key touchpoint for your brand; if you go to one set of designers for “brand” and another set of designers for “Web,” you’re doing it wrong.

How would you describe the client-designer relationship on a given project? Who leads whom when it comes to ideas and decision-making?

Our client relationships are deeply collaborative. We “hire” smart clients and work closely with them to create optimal experiences for the people to whom their product or service appeals. This doesn’t mean our clients design the experience. Quite the contrary: design, architecture, and content strategy are entirely our responsibility. But we interact with clients on a deep level to probe their learning and knowledge and to co-evolve solutions, so that the client not only feels but actually has true co-ownership of the final idea.

What are some common design mistakes or misconceptions?

Some clients think design is decoration. We don’t work with those clients. Design is strategic.

Some clients think design and content are separate. Design and content are inseparable.

Some designers think, if one client doesn’t buy a design, you can sell that design to another client. Design is an expression of brand; as such, a design for Company A cannot be used for Company B.

How often should companies redesign their websites? How do you design a site that can evolve over time?

Every six months. Kidding!

Redesign is an opportunity to rethink and improve. There is no requirement to redesign, ever. Some successful sites, such as Amazon and Google, don’t so much redesign as slowly evolve their existing design. This can work just fine.

Redesigns are a risk but they are also an opportunity, particularly when your site is quite old and has evolved haphazardly over the years.

Redesigns require strategy, otherwise they are merely reskinning. We don’t do reskinning. We do strategic redesigns that help the people who use your website achieve their goals. Strategic redesign starts with research. The notion that a design is “dull” and needs to be “freshened up” by a “burst of creative inspiration” reveals a lack of understanding of, and disrespect for, design.

You worked as an art director, journalist and musician before the Internet days. What did your past lives teach you about design?

Failure in my prior careers taught me to patience and gratitude for what I have now, as well as patience with colleagues and clients.

Advertising taught me to work with clients and respect them. They are not the enemy, they are partners.

Writing is an expression of my love of content; design is another. I cannot design without understanding and loving the client’s content and the people to whom it appeals.

Any final words of wisdom, jokes, stock advice?

The best way to engage honestly with the marketplace via Twitter is to never use the words “engage,” “honestly,” or “marketplace.”

You didn’t ask, but boxers.

Those who don’t believe in eternity have never eaten with old people.